Lorenzana on South Sea claim: Only in their imagination

Lorenzana on South Sea claim: Only in their imagination

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - August 25, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — China’s “nine-dash line” used to claim most of the South China Sea is a fabrication, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Sunday, as he accused Beijing of illegally occupying Filipino maritime territory.

“Their so-called historical rights over an area enclosed by their nine-dash line don’t exist except in their imaginations,” he said.

The remarks came amid a fresh row between Manila and Beijing over the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which has long been a flashpoint between the two countries.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) last week lodged a diplomatic protest over what it said was the “illegal confiscation” by China’s coast guard of fishing equipment near the shoal.

China seized Panatag from the Philippines in 2012 following a tense standoff.

The shoal, one of the region’s richest fishing grounds, is located 240 kilometers west of the Philippines’’ main island of Luzon and 650 kms from the nearest major Chinese land mass, the southern island province of Hainan.

“That area is within our EEZ,” Lorenzana told reporters in a text message, referring to the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“Our fishermen are within our EEZ and likewise our ships and planes conduct patrol sorties within our area,” he pointed out.

“They (China) are the ones who have been doing provocations by illegally occupying some features within our EEZ. Hence they have no right to claim they are enforcing their laws,” he added.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, often invoking its so-called nine-dash line to justify its alleged historic rights to the key waterway that is also contested by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.

It rejected a 2016 UN-backed tribunal’s ruling that its claims were without legal basis.

China’s foreign ministry on Friday defended the coast guard, saying they had carried out law enforcement activities and “their actions are understandable.”

It also accused Philippine military aircraft of invading Chinese airspace in another disputed section of the sea and urged Manila to “immediately stop illegal provocative activities.”

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. has played down the spat which comes as the Philippines seeks to secure a coronavirus vaccine from China.

“Our diplomats routinely lodge protests like that if we believe our sovereign rights are violated,” Roque said Friday.

“But it will not affect the overall good relations between our country and China.”

Philippine-China relations have improved under Duterte, who revived once-icy diplomatic ties after being elected in 2016 when he largely set aside maritime disputes in favor of wooing Chinese aid, trade and investment.

But yesterday, Roque said the military’s movements in the West Philippine Sea are in line with the Philippines’ sovereign rights.

Roque said the military supply missions in Kalayaan, a fifth class town in the Spratlys, and the over flight patrols in Panatag Shoal would continue.

“Well, perhaps that’s the opinion of China. We will continue the bringing of supplies to Kalayaan and we will continue to have over flights in Bajo de Masinloc, and we maintain also that it’s part of our sovereignty or our sovereign rights,” Roque said at a press briefing.

“The President has been consistent. He will not give even an inch of our national territory or sovereign rights to any other state,” the Palace spokesman said.

“But the unresolved issue about territory should not be a hindrance to pursue our diplomatic bilateral relations with China. We can pursue the things we can pursue like trade and investments,” he added.

In his fifth State of the Nation Address last month, Duterte admitted that he is helpless in dealing with China’s bullying in the West Philippine Sea.

“So what can we do? We have to go to war and I cannot afford it. Maybe some other president can but I cannot. Inutil ako diyan, sabihin ko sa inyo (I am useless on that, I tell you). And I’m willing to admit it: talagang inutil ako diyan (I’m really useless on that),” he said.

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